Leadership Caffeine™—9 Lessons from the North Woods

With the milder weather here in the Midwest, I took the occasion to visit our north woods residence a full month earlier than normal this past weekend. The first visit of the season is always one filled with hope and excitement for the coming months and just a bit of anxiety over what damage winter might have left on the property and home.

Aside from the 30-foot pine tree laying across my deck (unbelievably, no damage!) and most of the stray brush in northern Wisconsin that inconveniently decided to land on my property, all was as expected.

There’s the mountain of wood to be split, left behind by the tree removal service I engaged to clear the dead oaks and widow-making trees grown too large up near the house. Add in the need to remove a couple of inches of leaves spread over two and a half acres of grounds, and you get the picture. There’s a lot of work to do, just to return the property to last summer’s pristine beauty.

All of the above excludes what I term “forward progress.” This represents the projects intended to improve the use and beauty of the property—initiatives that often get lost in only trying to maintain the status quo. This work is best reflected in the pile of boulders that yet again failed to maneuver themselves into position during the winter. They will look great when formed into the rock wall I can see in my mind’s eye. While they look as if they migrated a few inches closer to their intended destination, I suspect it’s just a trick of the mind.

You have to adapt to changing circumstances and be creative in attacking new problems. Click To Tweet

Many have suggested the labor involved with this facility ranges from overwhelming to a fool’s errand. While the latter is entirely reasonable given that it’s me on the errand, in reality, the magnetic draw of this place for the family every season makes any amount of effort worthwhile. We celebrated our 25th family reunion up there last summer. Priceless memories that now span generations.

And perhaps it’s my professional vocation as a leadership coach and speaker, but this place offers a constant string of parallels and lessons for my day job. (I included several essays incorporating the theme, leadership lessons from the north woods in my collection: Leadership Caffeine—Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.) Here are a few additional lessons:

9 More Leadership and Management Lessons from the North Woods:

  1. Every season brings about a mix of routine work and new, unexpected challenges. You have to adapt to changing circumstances and be creative in attacking new problems.
  2. Some of the work can be outsourced, but to truly take responsibility for outcomes; there’s no avoiding the heavy lifting. And you don’t own a problem and solution when you outsource it.
  3. The messiest situations can lead to the most remarkable outcomes with the right approach and team.
  4. Often, you have to grind through the detritus to uncover the real beauty in something or someone.
  5. Don’t let the size of the challenge overwhelm you. The most overwhelming initiatives can be distilled down to a series of discrete, manageable tasks.
  6. Not everyone should be an airplane pilot. The number of dumb mistakes we make on mechanical issues convinces me I don’t have the discipline to safely pilot a plane. “Did you turn off the power before you drained the electric water heater?” “Did you tighten the spark plugs on the boat after you cleaned them?”)
  7. Some jobs require expertise beyond your own. You should not be afraid to ask for help when the situation demands. This isn’t outsourcing the work it’s investing in the expertise to achieve a worthwhile goal.
  8. Real progress comes from the extraordinary effort you expend once the routine work is complete. Too many people consider their job complete when they’ve simply raked the leaves.
  9. There’s pure joy in creating an environment where others can be at their best and most joyful.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s no avoiding the hard work and heavy lifting required to create something remarkable. Instead of avoiding or lamenting it, enjoy the work, guided by the knowledge that you are striving to create something special for those around you.

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By | 2017-05-01T07:06:44+00:00 March 20th, 2017|Leadership, Leadership Caffeine|2 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Roz L March 22, 2017 at 10:40 am - Reply

    Great post. I love number 3, messiest situations can lead to something beautiful, great outcome!

    • Art Petty March 23, 2017 at 7:17 am - Reply

      Thanks Roz! It has happened more than a few times during my journey.

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